– I think, – Selma talked licking the chestnut puree off her spoon with pleasure, – Hanukkah is really great! –
– I also think Hanukkah is great, – said Aleksandar getting annoyed – but I just say that Bogdan cleans his boots well and leaves them in front of the door for Saint Nicholas day and the next day there is a present for him in the boot, if he has been a good boy. –
– Well, all right, it is nice, too, – the mother said preparing another spoon of chestnut puree for Selma, forming a round mouthful big enough and small enough for her little mouth, – and a lot of Serbs celebrate Saint Nicholas as slava . So does Aunt-Zora… Do you remember Aunt-Zora Hercog? As a matter of fact, her married name is Branković now. – the mother looked at her children inquisitively for a while, and then continued, – Aunt-Zora is married to a Serb, so she celebrates Saint Nicholas, too. Yet, she also pays visits to her father’s family for Hanukkah! –
– And she gets her Hanukkah gelt twice! – Selma concluded excited.
– Saint Nicholas present is not called Hanukkah gelt! – Aleksandar corrected her.
– What is it called then? – asked Selma.
– I don’t know… a present, I suppose? – Aleksandar mused taking a big spoonful of chestnut puree.
They were sitting at the table in Terazije Street, in front of the confectioner’s, just next to the hotel “Moscow” and a shop called “Tivar”. The shop “Tivar” was selling suits and ready-made clothing, but there was also a toy department. When they had ordered two portions of chestnut puree for Selma and Aleksandar several minutes ago, the father “had remembered” that he had something to do and went into the shop. Aleksandar knew very well that the father had actually gone to buy some presents for them for Hanukkah, but as it was all a part of the exciting game, he never minded pretending that he didn’t know what it was all about.
An idyllic winter evening was descending on Belgrade. The noise of conversations and steps of passers-by were echoing across the wet pavement, as the trams on line 1, riding from Kalemegdan to Slavija, were squeaking along the tracks, ringing three or four times sharply “ding, ding, ding”, warning the pedestrians always at the same spot where they were crossing the street.
Aleksandar liked Hanukkah days, not only because of presents, but he also enjoyed the mysterious little flame of the candles they would light every evening – one more each evening – on the eight-branched candle holder called hanukkiah. In fact, a hanukkiah had nine branches but the candle in the very middle of it didn’t count, for it was used merely to light all other eight candles. During these days they would be visited by uncle Julije, the aunt, Pavle and other relatives. The adults would play cards, while children would spin a dreidel playing “nes gadol haya sham”. Although Pavle was no longer a child, he would sit with the children spinning a dreidel. He was the best at it. Later uncle Julije and the father would talk about brave Judah Maccabee – whose name means “a hammer” in Hebrew – who in the ancient times, when terrible occupiers had forbidden Jews to be Jews, had been fighting for three years and had liberated Jerusalem and the whole Jewish nation. Aleksandar was moulding his chestnut puree in the glass dish into a hill, building the Temple at the top and picturing Judah Maccabee swinging his hammer bravely charging uphill to liberate the nation…
– Aleksandar, for god’s sake, don’t play with your food! –
– Sorry, mother. – Aleksandar awakened and put a huge bite of chestnut puree in his mouth.
At that moment the father came back.
– Well, I have done all that I had to. Have you finished? –
– We had such a nice chestnut puree – Selma explained to father as they headed home down the pavement.
”Ding, ding, ding”, a tram greeted them.
Several days later, children got their presents. Selma nicknamed her plush teddy bear Pepi, and from that point on they became inseparable. Aleksandar got a beautiful red toy race car. It may not be exactly the same model, but to him it looked just like Mercedes Benz W-154 M163, the winning bolide at the great Belgrade Grand Prix around Kalemegdan Park.